We’ve Moved!

Dear Followers:

Robert and I recently made a one time only move over to our permanent location: www.makingabeille.com. If you received e-mail updates regarding new content and posts, you will need to re-register at the new site if you wish to keep receiving them.

On the rightmost column of the new blog, right under the Search bar, you’ll find the Subscribe Via E-mail function.

We apologize for the added step but hope you’ll agree the new website and layout is much more engaging.

Thank you for following us as early adopters! I hope to see you around the new site.
Caitlin

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A Brief Interlude for Cocktails – In a Parking Lot

Caitlin – January 21st, 2013
Yesterday we had a weird lunch at Heavy Seas Alehouse. I ordered a Musket Ball. According to the menu, a Musket Ball is a cocktail made of Bulleit bourbon (regular), Bulleit bourbon (rye), a syrup derived from Heavy Seas Gold Ale, and black walnut bitters. My conversation with the bartender went something like this:

Me: I’d like a Musket Ball please.
Bartender: I have no idea what that is.
Me: It’s right here on the menu, see? Bourbon, syrup, and bitters.
Bartender: I’ll make it, but I don’t think you’re going to like it. <pause>
Bartender: I don’t agree with anything that’s on this entire menu.

In my head I said, “you’re not allowed to say that!” but outwardly I panicked. I think I just ended up staring at him silently. He made me the drink. He was right. I didn’t like it. It was good in concept, but as you can probably infer, he didn’t try very hard to make it. It showed.

He then insisted on making me a gin martini (off-menu). I wanted to hate it.

It was amazing. Which irritated me even more. So there.

Anyway, while we were drinking and eating, and because it was game-day, Robert and I got to talking about what makes a good tailgating cocktail. Since you’re making it in a parking lot, you need easy ingredients. It needs to be easy to make and easy to clean-up. We came up with some rules:

  1. You should be able to measure it pretty accurately without the use of a jigger or shot glass.
  2. You shouldn’t have to mix it in a cocktail shaker.
  3. You shouldn’t need a cutting board or knives.
  4. It should have enough ingredients to be interesting but not too many.
  5. You should be able to drink it during any time of day.
  6. You should be able to easily make riffs on it, to appeal to almost any tailgating party attendee.

Well, that’s what makes a good tailgating cocktail. But what makes a really memorable tailgating cocktail? Something painless for you, as the host, but new and different for your guests. The glassware, of course! In this case, the copperware. Copper mugs.

Let’s begin with a brief history of the copper mug. Copper has been used as a drinking vessel for thousands of years. In ancient Ireland, people drank from a copper (and/or silver) goblet called an escraAmerican colonists drank from copper mugs. And, in the 1940s, the Moscow Mule was invented out of necessity by one Mr. John Martin.

John Martin was the president of G.F. Heublein & Brothers, an East Coast food and spirits importer. He purchased a small vodka distillery called Smirnoff (perhaps you’ve heard of it?) for $14,000. Vodka was not popular at the time, and he was hoping to find himself at the forefront of the next major cocktail craze.

As the story goes, John Martin was visiting his friend Jack Morgan, owner of the Cock ‘n Bull pub in Hollywood. John Martin bemoaned the fact that he couldn’t sell his vodka. Jack Morgan complained he couldn’t sell his ginger beer. A third mystery person lamented that she had copper mugs that she either didn’t want or need. The vodka and ginger beer were mixed with a dash of lime juice and served in the unwanted copper mugs. And thanks to arguably the most successful marketing campaign in cocktail history, the Moscow Mule became one of the most popular drinks of the 1950s and 60s.

Robert asked for, and received, copper mugs for Christmas this year. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but it did during lunch: copper mugs are the perfect tailgating drinking vessel. They are remarkable, noteworthy, and memorable. They are light. You can drop them on the ground and they won’t break. They stay very, very cold for an extended period of time. A copper mug is the perfect way to elevate a relatively simple cocktail. Not to mention, you can win friends and influence people by regaling them with the famous tale of Martin, Morgan, and their mystery date. Hours of fun. Hours, I tell you!

Now, what to put in it this wonderful mug? Heeding rules #1 through #5, I came up with the following concoction. The Parking Lot. You need:

Bourbon (in homage to the Musket Ball that wasn’t, I used Bulleit)
Fresh blood oranges
Chipped ice
Champagne
Simple syrup

Easy: Make the simple syrup the evening before, allow it to cool, and pour it into a squeeze bottle. Juice your blood oranges and store in a separate squeeze bottle, or simply cut the oranges in half and wrap in Saran™ Wrap so they don’t dry out. Make chipped ice by crushing ice cubes in a Ziploc® bag using a rolling-pin. If you don’t have a rolling-pin, because you live in a corporate apartment like me, use whatever you have on hand. I used our sugar bowl. Store the chipped ice in the freezer until it’s ready to be transferred to your cooler.

Even easier: Mix the juice and the simple syrup to taste beforehand and you’ll only need to bring one squeeze bottle.

Fill a standard, 13.5oz copper mug with chipped ice, then fill approximately 1/4 of the mug with bourbon. Squeeze in the juice of one blood orange and add simple syrup to taste (I used approximately one tablespoon). The mug should now be approximately 3/4 of the way full. Slosh around to mix. Top with champagne.

So, does it meet the criteria? I think so.

  1. You should be able to measure it pretty accurately without the use of a jigger or shot glass. You can easily eyeball the bourbon and the fresh fruit juice and champagne forgive most errors.
  2. You shouldn’t have to mix it in a cocktail shaker. Simple syrup easily dissolves in liquor, no shaking required. Just a little sloshing.
  3. You shouldn’t need a cutting board or knives. Cutting the fruit the night beforehand or morning of eliminates the need for a cutting board or knives.
  4. It should have enough ingredients to be interesting but not too many. In the wintertime, blood oranges are as easy to find as oranges, but have the benefit of being way more interesting.
  5. You should be able to drink it during any time of day. Since this is topped with champagne, it’s perfectly appropriate for the morning. Since it also has bourbon, it is grown-up enough for the afternoon and evening.
  6. You should be able to easily make riffs on it to appeal to almost any tailgating party attendee. Someone doesn’t like bourbon? Serve them champagne and blood orange juice in a GoVino stemless plastic champagne flute. Someone doesn’t drink? Fresh squeezed juice it is! Someone doesn’t like champagne? Don’t top their cocktail off and you’re basically serving them an Old-Fashioned.

We are 99.9 percent sure that this cocktail played a leading role in the Ravens victory over the Patriots, so we will be making a big batch of them for the Super Bowl. Boom. What are some of your game-day favorites? Leave a reply in the comments section below!

We Do Live in Baltimore, What Did You Expect?Your SuppliesYou Can Crush Ice With Pretty Much AnythingTa-Da!

I Have Some Concerns

Caitlin – January 18th, 2013
A few weeks ago, I told you to drink whatever you want. It’s no one’s business but yours. I still think that’s true. You should drink white wine. You should even drink Two-Buck Chuck. It goes without saying, but I also think you should treat yourself to a few bottles as a long-term investment, and drink those too. Why should you drink cheap wine, you ask? For the same reason you should drink expensive wine. Experimenting with a broad selection of vintages and varietals, from a large number of regions at varying price points, will help expand your palate and hone your wine drinking persona.

As I was drafting this post, Robert and I exchanged the following dialogue via text message:

Me: What’s the worst wine we ever drank (non-corked)?
Robert: Probably something from Virginia.* <long pause>
Robert: NO!
Robert: That Merlot from Woodrose.
Me: THE ONE THAT TASTED LIKE FEET?
Robert: Yes.

It did taste like feet, you guys. For real. Only with a high level of skepticism would I drink anything from Woodrose Winery again. I would, though. Most winemakers change, grow, and improve. We’re pulling for them. Some winemakers, on the other hand, are consistently reliable. For example, I will always buy Phantom. Wide-ranging trial-and-error helped me draw these conclusions.

Some wine is cheap because it’s mass produced. Some wine is cheap because it’s terrible. But the price of a wine neither indicates nor guarantees quality. A cheap wine can taste great and an expensive wine can taste like feet. You need two skills to ensure you always get a good value:

  1. You need to know what you like.
  2. You need to be able to describe it to a wine merchant, winemaker, or sommelier.

Wine can be terrible because it just doesn’t taste good. Maybe the winemaker is not good at their job. Or maybe they don’t care about the product, they only care about profit. Some winemakers who say they make wine aren’t really making wine at all. I’m talking to you, Arbor Mist, you assholes. This is the first category of bad wine.

Wine can also terrible because of a specific fault, the most well-known of which is cork taint. A wine is corked when a compound (specifically, 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, known as TCA, and/or 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, known as TBA) is transferred from or through the cork. Corked wine containing TCA and/or TBA has a characteristic odor: moldy, filthy, and damp. Other faults, like oxidation, can be harder to identify, but we can cover the general topic of potential faults after bottling in a future post. This is the second category of bad wine.

There is a third category. Unfortunately for you, me, and the future of humanity, there is a third category. Wine can be terrible because the entire concept is so deeply flawed and antithetical to the entire point of wine drinking that I want to put myself into a medicated coma over it. That’s a gross exaggeration. But I am concerned. I am really, really concerned about Copa Di Vino.

Copa Di Vino is a sealed plastic drinking cup that looks like glass and contains good-quality Washington State wine. Each Copa Di Vino contains the equivalent of a quarter of a bottle of wine and is designed for younger wine drinkers who want grab-and-go convenience and don’t want to drink a whole bottle at a time. Good Fruit Grower

Single-serving wine isn’t a new concept. In fact, the maker of Copa di Vino got the idea when he was on a train with his wife during a vacation in France in 2008. The company that produces the single-serving wine in France, ¼ Vin, agreed to partner with Copa di Vino to patent the bottling and sealing technology in the United States. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a big fan of wine technology. I think cork alternatives (i.e., screw tops) are a great idea. I will definitely have a vineyard robot. I have to draw the line at single-serving wine. My issues? I have two. First of all, wine is not a soft drink, nor is it beer. Grab-and-go convenience isn’t a phrase you should be using to describe what you’re looking for in a wine. Second of all, wine is a living thing. It should never be vacuum-sealed. These are the commandments of this blog. They’ve both been broken.

There is also this: real-life quotes in support of Copa di Vino. I am not making any of these up:

It combines the classiness of a bottle of fine wine with the convenience of a drink pouch.

I may be a wine snob, but I’m a wine snob on the go.

Mr. Franzia will always live on in our hearts for one of the most wonderful inventions of all time, but it may be time for us to move on…each sealed disposable wine glass comes filled with six ounces of red, white or rosé that look good enough to drink at a fancy dinner party.

No. Just…no. Just stop it. No they don’t look good enough to drink at a fancy dinner party. Someone help me. Is anything sacred? Drink whatever you want. Just not Copa di Vino.

My Living NightmareThey're EverywhereReally...Everywhere

*We’ve had some very good wines from Virginia. Barboursville and Valhalla come to mind.

The Light Giveth and the Light Taketh Away

Caitlin – January 16th, 2013
We really should be posting about how our white wine is doing outside. But our white wine isn’t outside. Because it hasn’t been cold enough yet. Of course it’s the mildest winter on record. I wonder how tartaric acid crystals taste. I’m probably going to find out.

In the meantime, let me entertain you with a post about wine storage. I mentioned in my last post that a fair average for cellar-worthy whites is about five to seven years (some might go 10). I also mentioned that some reds can easily be kept for 30 years and longer, assuming that your aging conditions are appropriate. But I didn’t dive into the details. By appropriate aging conditions, I mean that controls have been put in place to moderate three things:

  1. Light
  2. Humidity
  3. Temperature

Each deserves its own blog post, so each will get its own blog post. Let’s start with numero uno.

Last January, we renovated our master bedroom. Our house was built in 1900. When we bought it, the closer you got from the earth to the sky, the worse the conditions were. The living room (close to the earth) was totally renovated by the previous owners. We just needed to paint. The master bedroom and master bath on the third floor (close to the sky) were abhorrent. If I ever cornered you at a cocktail party to tell you, in excruciating detail, just how much I hated that bedroom, I really apologize.

What I am trying to say is, it was a major undertaking to renovate. The floors had pulled away from two of the walls.  There was no insulation. There was still a Victorian-era pulley system in place for all of the windows. And horsehair-insulated wiring (it exists). Most of our time, effort, and heartache went into major construction. So, when it came time to purchase the finishing touches, we were looking for a screaming deal. We found one. The northwest Baltimore neighborhood of Hampden is a great part of town to visit if you are in the market for relatively inexpensive antiques. Denova on West 36th Street is one of our merchants of choice. When we went in to search for lamps for our master bedroom, we weren’t disappointed by the selection.

We were only disappointed by ourselves.

We spied fantastic orange, glazed table lamps that day. It was love at first sight. We stood around the store for 45 minutes, trying to convince ourselves that something, anything in our house was orange. Nothing was. We shook our fists at the sky and cursed our past selves at being so short-sighted. We walked out with two black iron lamps instead. We buckled them up in the car for safety, took them home, and enjoyed them, and our renovated room, every day for eight months until the fire.

The black lamps are gone now, but you’ll never guess what. The orange lamps were still at the antique store! Robert got them for me for my birthday. When we move back into the house, our *new* new master bedroom will feature orange. All orange, all the time.

First We Took Them HomeThey Were in Our Room for a WhileNow We Have Orange Ones

Why am I telling you all of this? Because the light giveth and light taketh away. Light and sunshine is so important for winemaking. We need it for photosynthesis to occur. We need it because excessive cloudiness becomes problematic if rain begins to fall, especially during fertilization or harvest. We need it for color development, especially for red varietals. Growers even remove leaves from around grape clusters during the growing season because sun exposure deepens color. We really need light. We really need light all the way up until we don’t need it anymore and never want to see it again – pretty much immediately following harvest.

Light control is critical to ensuring successful long-term wine storage and light comes from the sun and from lamps. That’s right. It’s not just direct sunlight that can ruin your wine, it’s incandescent light from lamps too. I love my new orange lamps, but they will stay far, far away from my 2006 Velvet Glove Shiraz.

Light impacts wines because it adversely reacts with the phenolic compounds. Phenolic compound is a technical term for any one of several hundred chemical compounds that impact the taste, color, and mouthfeel of wine. This is one answer to a question you may have asked yourself, which is “why is wine in darkly tinted bottles*?” Wine is in darkly tinted bottles because they offer some protection from the light. Let’s call it the first line of defense.

If the bottle is the first line of defense, what’s the second? You. There are special wine refrigerators and even storage units available, but you can successfully store your wine without investing in either of these. Keep wine out of light from the time you purchase it until the time you serve it. If you haven’t been blessed with a cool, dry basement, like most of us in the northeastern United States, you can improvise by using inexpensive wine racks in a safe and secure area. High-traffic areas are not safe. Rooms with windows are not safe. A closet is probably your best bet, or inside a cupboard. Just not a cupboard inside your kitchen. Your wine will not like the wild temperature variations.

If you are lucky enough to have a wine cellar, put your cellar lights on a timer. If you forget to turn off the lights, the timer will do it for you. To the extent that you can, utilize low-wattage, non-heat emitting lights rather than fluorescent lighting.

*Some wines are bottled in clear, light green, and blue colored bottles. These are more vulnerable to light. Extra precautions should be taken for storage. You might also want to try to deduce what the winemaker’s motivation was in using a lighter bottle. If the answer is “marketing”, pass.

A Note About Aging

Caitlin – January 3rd, 2013
It’s my birthday! Which mostly means that this song is running through my head on a continuous loop. As long as I can remember, every year, I wake up on my birthday, and I hear Paul McCartney. What does it mean? I think it might mean that I like the Beatles. I looked it up in an online dream dictionary, but I’m sure you’d be surprised to know (as I was) that Paul McCartney isn’t a valid search term.

I digress.

We’ve touched on aging briefly here and here, but since it’s on my mind today, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a longer post. Specifically, I’m going to talk about what it means for us as winemakers, and what it means for you as a consumer.

Like most* winemakers and drinkers, I have a special place in my heart for the movies Sideways and Bottle Shock. I think Sideways gets the honor of “top movie wine quote”, and the quote I have in mind is perfect for this post:

I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks, like your ’61. And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline.

Aging, as it relates to wine, happens at two critical points: during the winemaking process, at my house, and when it’s in the bottle, at your house. Aging, as it relates to me personally, apparently happens on a continuous basis. And I age at my house, your house, and everywhere in-between.

Let’s tackle the first topic area: aging wine at my house, also know as barrel aging. Wine can be barrel fermented in oak (which we don’t do), or wine can be placed in oak or infused with oak after fermentation (which we do). As we’ve discussed, after fermentation is completed, the wine is racked several times. At this stage, the wine is green (in taste, not in color), and needs to settle for a period of time. This form of aging can be done in neutral containers such as glass carboys, like we’re using, or it can be done in new wood barrels, which are not neutral, and influence the developing wine. Ideally, we would age our wine in barrels, but they are large and expensive, and maybe not practical now that we live in an apartment.

The impact of the type of wood used for the barrel (French, American, or Eastern European) and the degree of “toast” on the barrel can affect the tannin levels of the wine and the aggressiveness of the wood flavor imparted into the final product. Suffice to say, barrels are the subject of great discussion and experimentation among winemakers throughout the world. Much like dirt.

Regardless, as it rests, the wine goes through subtle changes, resulting in greater complexity and a softening of the harsh flavors present at the end of fermentation. If you are aging in oak, this is the point in the process where a vanilla finish is imparted in a red wine. We use oak spirals to capture some oak-driven characteristics for Abeille, which will be discussed in more detail in a later post. We could also technically oak our unnamed white wine. White wines that are matured in oak, or infused with oak, have a darker color and can have characteristics of coconut, cinnamon, and clove. We haven’t decided yet.

And now on to the second topic: aging wine at your house, also known as bottle aging. Not all wines are meant to be aged at your house. Large, commercial wineries with high turnover typically produce fruit-forward, low acid wines intended to be consumed within one or two years of harvest. Varietals like Beaujolais Nouveau are intended to be consumed nearly immediately. So, what type of wine is cellar-worthy? A wine that is (1) high-alcohol, (2) high-acidity, (3) tannic, and/or (4) high in sugar is probably a pretty good candidate. A common misconception is that you can’t really age white wine, which isn’t true. A Spätlese from Germany can be cellared for years, and often improves over time, as do many white dessert wines, like Sauternes, late-harvest Rieslings, and Tokaji. Most of these whites meet the #4 criterion. Red wines, those that meet criterion #1, #2, and/or #3, can include Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, and Syrah. I say can include because not all wines become better over time. As Sideways so elegantly points out, eventually all wine will begin to decline. Even wines meant to be kept for many years should be drunk before its too late.

A fair average for cellar-worthy whites is about five to seven years (some might go 10). On the other hand, some reds can easily be kept for 30 years and longer, assuming that your aging conditions are appropriate. So, how do you know? I usually start by reading the back of the bottle (helpful winemakers will often print how long the wine is intended to be aged or cellared on the back), calling the winemaker, and discussing the bottles in our cellar with the professionals at our local wine shop. Or, if Robert and I have a bottle that we really like, but feel is drinking a little too young, we buy a few more bottles, and cellar them. Discussion and experimentation are probably the two best parts of winemaking and wine drinking.

The jury is still out on when I’ll peak before beginning my steady, inevitable decline. But I don’t think it’s this year!

These Were All Cellared Before We Drank ThemBarrel Aging (from our Honeymoon in Napa)Our Home "Cellar" (B.F. - Before Fire)

*There are winemakers and drinkers out there who marginalize both of these films. But I think their criticisms are misplaced. Sideways helped Pinot Noir, a great and challenging grape, skyrocket in the marketplace, to everyone’s benefit. Bottle Shock stars Alan Rickman and features the musical stylings of the Doobie Brothers. And I think that’s all I should need to say about that.

New Year’s Eve and Day…The “Open That Bottle Night” Challenge…Plus a Little Personal History

Caitlin – January 1st, 2013
It’s New Year’s Day, and I am sure that many of you have been or will be commemorating with a special bottle of wine or champagne. What better opportunity to crack open something you’ve been saving, than the start of an entirely new year?

New Year’s Eve and Day are truly two of the best days of the year. New Year’s Eve is an opportunity to look to the past — reflecting on your accomplishments and challenges, and how they’ve helped you change and grow. New Year’s Day is an opportunity to look to the future — making plans and dreaming big dreams while anything is still possible. I hope you opened at least one special bottle today that will bring you joy when you reflect on the conclusion of 2012 and birth of 2013 in the years to come.

Reflecting on the New Year makes me think about a topic I touched on a few posts ago. A very important topic. Context. Like many wine drinkers, I have an emotional connection to the wines I drink and serve. Not every bottle is special, but many are, and some are so special I never thought I would drink them, not even on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve or Day. Not ever.

I think a lot of wine drinkers have this problem, which is why the Tastings columnists for the New York Times (Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher) invented Open That Bottle Night. To paraphrase:

Whether it’s the only bottle in the house or one bottle among thousands, just about all of us have that very special wine that we always mean to open, but never do. On Open That Bottle Night, thousands of bottles all over the world are released from prison and enjoyed. With them come memories of great vacations, long-lost loved ones, and bittersweet moments. The whole point of our wine column is that wine is more than the liquid in the bottle. It’s about history, geography, relationships, and all of the things that are really important in life.

In other words…you’ve likely already selected what you will be drinking this evening. Maybe you already drank it, even. There are probably one or two bottles your fingers fluttered over before you said, “No. It’s just not the right time. Maybe next year. Or the year after.”

Open That Bottle Night is celebrated on the last Saturday of February, every year. While the New Year is already upon us, Open That Bottle Night 2013, just a few weeks away, is a great opportunity to drink the bottle that didn’t make it onto your table today. Here are some items Ms. Gaiter and Mr. Brecher suggest you consider before deciding what to open:

  1. You don’t necessarily want to open your most impressive wine, but the wine that means the most to you.
  2. Stand older wine up (away from light and heat) for a few days before you plan to open it. This will allow any sediment to sink to the bottom.
  3. If you are having a party to commemorate Open That Bottle Night, ask everyone to say a few words about the significance of the wine they brought.
  4. Enjoy the wine for what it is, not what it might someday be or might once have been.

In short, Open That Bottle Night is a celebration of friends, family, and memories, and your opportunity to drink that wine that is otherwise simply too important to open.

I’ve mentioned several times that my parents introduced me, and to a very significant degree, Robert, to good wine. When we were first dating, we lived in Washington, D.C., and like many young professionals, we were very broke. We ate 99 cent Dinty Moore dinners every night. When we celebrated our first dating anniversary, it was a very big night out, in the sense that we were both “allowed” to get one margarita all to ourselves. All to ourselves. Robert and I still talk fondly about that period in our lives. Actually, come to think of it, we talk about it almost every day now! Because we live in an apartment again. Just like the good old days, but now we can have as many margaritas as we want!

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, for holidays and birthdays, my parents would give us very special bottles of wine, way above what we could ever conceive of affording. We hoarded them like Gollum hoards the Precious. One such bottle was a 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia, ranked the #1 Wine of the Year in the Wine Spectator year-end review of the top 100 wines tasted in 2005. 12,400 wines from around the world are blind tasted and narrowed down to a thousand, then a hundred, then the top 10. Suffice to say, it was a pretty special bottle. When Robert and I were celebrated our second dating anniversary at our favorite D.C.-area special occasion restaurant, the Tabard Inn, imagine my surprise when the sommelier came out and presented it to me. I knew they didn’t have it on the wine list. Robert had made special arrangements to bring it in. I exclaimed that our second dating anniversary wasn’t special enough to open the Insignia.

He proposed. And I didn’t argue with him about it after that.

On February 23, 2013, I challenge you to open that bottle! We’re going to be picking out something special. I’ll be looking for you to tell us what you opened too.

I’m going to leave you with a cocktail recipe from last night. We had six friends over, and we like to make a unique specialty cocktail when we have parties. We picked this particular concoction because the ingredients were easy to find at the liquor store down the street, and Campari, a blend of equal parts of alcohol, sugar syrup, distilled water, and an infusion flavored with oranges, rhubarb, ginseng, and a mixture of herbs, is spicy and bitter, making for a great apéritif.

La Rosita (from Food and Wine, contributed by Robert Hess)
1.5 ounces reposado tequila
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce Campari

Fill two-thirds of a pint glass with ice. Add all of the ingredients and stir until completely chilled, then strain into a glass over ice. The recipe called for the cocktail to be strained into a chilled martini glass, but we opted for over ice instead.

Robert and I mixed ourselves two cocktails before our guests arrived and they tasted terrible. A lesson: always, always, always taste-test a cocktail before you serve it. Even if it’s from Food and Wine magazine. It was too bitter and a little too strong for our friends, who don’t neccessarily drink as much as we do. What to do? We topped off our drinks with tonic water, squeezed in some fresh lime juice, and garnished with a lime wedge. With these minor modifications, the drinks came out great, and cocktail hour was saved.

We Looked Really Young When We Got EngagedYour Campari Cocktail SuppliesThe Finished (Modified) ProductHappy New Year!

Christmas Recap – King Crab Legs, Eggnog, and a Visit from Dionysus

Caitlin – December 27th, 2012
Christmas is my favorite holiday, by which I mean Christmas Eve is my favorite holiday. We have very specific and glorious annual traditions, the most important of which (in my opinion) is stuffing our faces full of king crab legs, twice-baked potatoes, and my Mom’s homemade caesar salad.

We also decorate our tree on Christmas Eve, in the morning. Like many families, we listen to Christmas music. Like some families, we drink spiked eggnog.

Culinary anthropologists (which is a much better name than booze historians, by the way) believe modern day eggnog descended from a thick, medieval concoction called Posset (hot milk and booze enhanced with spices). Egg-based drinks found their true popularity in the American colonies, however, when pretty much everyone (including children) had access to cows, chickens, and brown liquor. Robert will be pleased to know that bourbon is considered the modern eggnog spirit of choice. Rum was the liquor of choice in colonial days.

There are several excellent recipes for homemade eggnog out there, but we usually buy ours. The ratio for our spiked eggnog is half whole milk to half eggnog, to cut some of the richness out, and one and a half to two shots of the brown liquor of your choice. As I alluded, Robert likes bourbon, the rest of my family likes Irish whiskey, and I like Scotch. What’s the difference? As I’ve mentioned in the past, for a whisky to call itself bourbon, its mash must contain at least 51 percent corn. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof or less, put into the barrel at 125 proof or less, and it must not contain any additives. The distillate must be aged in a new charred oak barrel.
 
The main difference between scotch and whisky is geographic. Scotch is made in Scotland, while bourbon is made in the USA, generally in Kentucky, and Irish whiskey is made in Ireland. Scotch is made mostly from malted barley, while bourbon is distilled from corn. If you’re in England and ask for a whisky, you’ll get Scotch. But in Ireland, you’ll get Irish whiskey not whisky. Never whisky. From a flavor profile perspecitve, Scotch generally has a peaty quality to it, which I enjoy, whereas Irish whiskey does not. Irish whiskey has a smooth finish compared to the smoky, earthy overtones common to Scotch. This is because peat is rarely used in the malting process for Irish whiskey but almost always used for Scotch. Peated single malt Irish whiskey is available, if you like smokiness, and Irish products, and are looking for something a little bit different. Similarly, unpeated Scotch is also available. Try Glengoyne or Bruichladdich.
 
Take Your Pick
 
Everyone gets nutmeg on top except for Robert, who doesn’t like it.
 
Also, since we were off of work for a few days, I wrote a poem for you. Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem Twas the Night before Christmas (also called A Visit from St. Nicholas) in 1822. It is the tradition in many families, including ours, to read the poem every Christmas Eve. Here’s my version.
 
A Visit from Dionysus – Adapted from Twas the Night before Christmas
Twas two days after Christmas
When all through the house
Not a single bottle was uncorked
Not even a Faust
The Excedrin® was open to deal with the wear
We prayed St. Bibiana soon would be there
 
Just two nights before
Nestled snug in our bed
Visions of Matriarch danced through my head
While I dreamt of Bond, Rob dreamt of Van Winkle
His eyelids were closed but imagine the twinkle
 
When from down in the cellar there arose such a clatter
We sprang from our bed to see what was the matter
Down two flights of stairs we flew like a flash
We tore open the door, incensed and brash
 
The gleam of new bottles on substantial oak racks
Were very confusing, we demanded the facts
Where did these come from? The Littorai? The Cakebread?
We were stricken by confusion, excitement, and dread
 
When what to our wondering eyes should appear
But an imposing figure, armed with liquor and beer
Wielding a fennel staff, tipped with a pine cone
The stranger announced what we should have known
“I am the god of the harvest, winemaking, and wine
Some call me Bacchus, come pray at my shrine”
 
He was dressed all in velvet, from his head to his feet
He carried provisions including wine grapes and wheat
A half-case of champagne he had flung on his back
We anxiously strained to peek in his pack
 
His eyes, how they twinkled, his dimples how merry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
His wide smiling mouth was stained purple like ours
From hours upon hours haunting urban wine bars
 
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath
He had a broad face and a humungous round gut
Perhaps only rivaled by the size of his butt
 
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old god
And we laughed at his antics, feeling lucky and awed
A wink of his eye and a twist of a cork
He wanted to know, could we spare any pork?
 
After filling his belly he went straight to his work
He filled all our glasses, then turned with a jerk
Laying his finger aside of his nose
He then gave a nod, “another round, I propose”
 
After several more hours Dionysys took leave
Not before recommending water with Aleve®
We heard him exclaim, ‘ere he left the cellar
“The company was good, but the red wine was stellar”
 

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